Baggu

“Always listen to your mother” isn’t exactly the kind of central tenet they teach you at Harvard Business School. But for Emily Sugihara, the California-raised, Brooklyn-based designer behind the reusable bag line Baggu, it’s a piece of advice that’s been invaluable to the brand’s runaway success since its founding in 2007. Back then Sugihara was a Parsons grad working as an assistant designer at J. Crew, just coming to realize that a corporate job wasn’t her calling. “As a kid, I was very entrepreneurial, and I always knew I wanted to have my own company,” she says. At home over Christmas break one year, Sugihara and her mother began talking about making a line of reusable shopping bags. Her mom was “sort of a treehugger” and an artist in her own right — an expert seamstress who learned to sew making her own clothes as a kid in rural Michigan — and Sugihara was a die-hard New Yorker-in-training, sporting fingers turned purple each week as she lugged home bags full of groceries. Together they came up with a bag that’s almost exactly like the original ripstop nylon Baggu that sells today: long handles that fit comfortably over the shoulder, gussets along the bottom that allow things like milk and eggs to stack, and a single, double-reinforced seam that’s the result, Sugihara says, of her mother’s “sewing genius.”
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Objects USA on YHBHS

Sighted on the interiors and art blog You Have Been Here Sometime, a chat with the three collectors behind Objects USA, an L.A.-based online and pop-up gallery dedicated to mid-century California design and crafts (and San Diego in particular). Ron Kerner, Steve Aldana, and Dave Hampton banded together to start Objects USA in 2005, after discovering they were all pretty much after the same stuff, and they've since expanded their repertoire to include hosting bi-annual "Mod Swap" trading events for other collectors. But though they were fortunate enough to find each other, they're aware that not everyone shares their taste: "Most people have gotten used to basic mid-century modern, and that's certainly where we all started," they write in the interview. "But for someone with visions of Pierre Koenig-style antiseptic interiors dancing in their head, our crazy hippie-modern fiber-art and funk movement meltdowns can seem unsettling." We think you'll like it just fine, which is why we’ve excerpted part of the interview here, where each partner tells the story behind his favorite object from his own collection, like these hand-carved wooden speakers from 1972.
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Tahmineh Javanbahkt, Creative Director at Artecnica

For a company that’s become known over the past decade for its ethically responsible products and its work with indigenous artisan communities, it’s surprising to learn that Artecnica’s first product was made from a relatively noxious material like resin. A small, egg-like alarm whose ovoid shape magnified its face, the Dada clock was designed by Tahmineh Javanbahkt, who co-founded the company in 1987 with her husband, the architect Enrico Bressan. “In the beginning, we started out doing mostly architecture,” Javanbahkt told me one day earlier this winter when I visited her home in Los Angeles. “We did Gianni Versace’s office and store; we would do set design for companies like Sebastian. In some of the buildings, we would do panels or dividers in resin, and eventually we made the Dada clock, which is what successfully started us in product design. But now we make it in glass!"
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Brooks Hudson Thomas of Specific Merchandise

I’d known about the Los Angeles design shop Specific Merchandise for nearly a year before I figured out that its name was a play on the idea of the general store. “I wanted to have a huge range of things, but when I started thinking about it, I liked the idea of flipping that and being specific rather than general,” says Brooks Hudson Thomas, the former Blackman Cruz manager who set out his own shingle at the beginning of last year on a stretch of Beverly Boulevard that includes Lawson-Fenning, L.A. Eyeworks, and the former digs of TenOverSix. “One model I had in mind was a museum shop, but sort of trying to kick its ass. The other was stores like Moss, Matter, and The Future Perfect, which also have that blurry store/gallery vibe.”
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Monica Khemsurov, Co-Editor

In honor of Sight Unseen's first anniversary, we, the editors, decided to turn the lens on ourselves, revealing what inspires us as writers about and champions of design and art. If you're an especially devoted reader of Sight Unseen, you might have noticed that Monica — who spent her childhood putting bugs under a kiddie microscope and was at the head of her high-school calculus class — often tends towards subjects inspired by geometry and science, while Jill — whose love for color and pattern likely began with an uncommonly large novelty earring collection — favors maximalist, throw-every-color-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks types. We were interested to see how those formative experiences would play out in a documention of our own reference points. Here's a closer look at eight of Monica's editor's picks.
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Kristin Dickson of L.A.’s Iko Iko

Inside Kristin Dickson’s store Iko Iko in L.A.’s Echo Park neighborhood, there are polka dot shirts and wooden knitting needles, zig-zag coathooks and Mexican moccasins, ceramic urns and jars of jam. There are selections from Dickson’s crystal and vintage-book collections — the latter with titles like “On Weaving” or “On Fiberworks” — plus pieces from her boyfriend Shin Okuda’s furniture line Waka Waka. And as of this month, these items were joined by a haul of objects from a three-week trip the couple took to Okuda’s native Japan, where the fare spanned vintage textiles to traditional trivets to novelties like toothpaste and black Q-tips. It’s a credit to the pair’s curating talents that the shop nevertheless feels like the product of a coherent vision. “I focus on work that balances high design with craft and traditional processes,” says Dickson. “I want it to be a fun exploration of textures, cultural artifacts, utilitarian objects, and beautiful curiosities.”
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Art in the Age

When Philadelphia adman Steven Grasse talks about his 20 years at the helm of Gyro Worldwide, the successful agency he shuttered in 2008, his assessment is as blunt as you might expect from the man who invented Bikini Bandits, a video series about strippers, guns, and hot rods: “I was the asshole who did the Camel ads,” he says. “At Gyro, we had this ‘I’ll fuck anything that moves’ philosophy.” That all changed in 2008, when he sold Sailor Jerry — the rum brand he created before going on to help develop Hendrick's Gin — to William Grant & Sons for “more money than I ever made in advertising,” he says. Grasse quickly changed the name of his agency to Quaker City Mercantile, and transformed its mission completely. “Now we only work on brands that we create and own or with clients I truly like personally,” he says. The most personal of those projects is Art in the Age, the Old City store and liquor brand Grasse began working on the day he sold Sailor Jerry.
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JM Dry Goods in Marfa, Texas

One recent March morning, I found myself in the Mexican town of Ojinaga sipping micheladas with Michelle Teague, owner of Marfa’s effortlessly cool ranchwear and housewares shop JM Dry Goods, and her business partner, glass- and soap-maker Ginger Griffice. Every six weeks or so, Teague and Griffice travel to OJ on buying trips. Teague scouts the small array of stores, filled with both the everyday and the bizarre, for items to boost JM Dry Goods’s border-town flavor. Griffice buys empty bottles of Topo Chico, a popular Mexican sparkling mineral water, at OJ’s Coca-Cola bottling plant, and they become the bases for the drinking glasses she sells at the store. By now, their trips follow an established pattern. Morning micheladas are an important part of the ritual.
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David Alhadeff, Owner of The Future Perfect

As design-store owner Dave Alhadeff sees it, there’s a distinction between the kinds of craftspeople he is and isn’t interested in: The latter make objects primarily to show off their manual skills, while the former are motivated by a larger concept, a wish to make tangible some abstract artistic meaning. Carving toothpicks into forest animals? Skills. Carving porcelain into vases so mind-bogglingly intricate they appear to be made by machine? Concept. A subtle difference, but one that helps it seem slightly less absurd to picture Alhadeff — who runs The Future Perfect, one of New York’s most well-respected purveyors of contemporary design — roaming the aisles of a Westchester craft fair, chatting up potters and glassblowers. Concept, he explains, is what builds a bridge between pure craft and design.
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A Brooklyn Photographer and His Envy-Inducing Design Collection

“I was so dim,” says Greg Krum. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and Krum, best known around New York as retail director of the wonderfully quirky Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, is puttering around the sun-drenched kitchen of a renovated 1890s townhouse he shares with two roommates in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. He’s trying to recall the origins of his other career: that of a photographer about to mount his first solo show this May at New York’s Jen Bekman gallery. “Growing up, I was always attracted to making art, but I didn’t think I could do it because I couldn’t draw. I was like, ‘Okay. That’s out.’ Then I finally realized it’s not about that. It’s about living a life of ideas.”
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Lisa Congdon’s “A Collection a Day”

On January 1, the San Francisco–based artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon began documenting her various collections on a new blog, A Collection a Day. A new day, a new grouping: vintage Boy Scout cards, delicate sewing notions, paint tubes, plastic charms, erasers, paintbrushes, pencil leads, even — strangely — multicolored buoys. “No, I don’t have a collection of buoys,” Congdon laughs. Or a collection of Victorian shoes, for that matter. As her website explains, while she photographs the collections that decorate her house and studio, "some are imagined; those I will draw or occasionally paint.” Scroll through her site, and you’ll find twigs and toiletries drawn with ink on paper, and, yes, buoys painted with gouache on Masonite.
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Fair Folks & a Goat

At Fair Folks & a Goat, a new retail gallery and tea salon hybrid on New York’s Upper East Side, everything inside the gracious late 19th-century studio apartment is for sale. Well, almost everything — a small candy dish that reads “When I count my blessings, I count you twice” was a gift from co-owner Anthony Mazzei’s mother and “it’s a million dollars,” he jokes, while the vintage paperbacks lining a wall of shelves constitute an actual lending library. Here, the props and merch blend into a seamless backdrop for a new kind of social gathering. “We wanted to create a space for young people to have a home away from home, where instead of alcohol and loud music it would be more like a physical incarnation of a magazine, with design, art, fashion, and culture,” says Mazzei.
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